Advent Reflection: Mary's Song
Theme: In all things, God… (Romans 8:28)
My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord,
my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
who has looked with favour on his lowly servant.
From this day all generations will call me blessed:
the Almighty has done great things for me
and holy is his name.
God has mercy on those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
The Lord has shown strength with his arm
and scattered the proud in their conceit,
casting down the mighty from their thrones
and lifting up the lowly.
God has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty.
He has come to the aid of his servant Israel,
to remember the promise of mercy,
the promise made to our forebearers,
to Abraham and his children for ever.
Advent is the time of the church calendar that prepares us for Christmas. In one sense, this may seem odd – what kind of preparation is needed for Christmas? I mean, other than buying gifts, planning meals, and making travel arrangements to visit family (although this particular preparation may be less applicable this year). Why does the church need to spend four weeks preparing for Christmas?
Of course, if we understand Christmas as the celebration of the coming of Jesus, God with us, then it makes sense to prepare. When I know company is coming over, I want to make sure the house is clean, there’s food and drink ready and I’m at the door to welcome them. Why? To show how much I value them, and to make the most of our time together.
So how do we prepare for the coming of Jesus?
The words of Mary are instructive in this regard. She speaks of the favour that has been bestowed on her, the blessing she has been granted, and the great things God has done for her. And she speaks with such confidence and assurance, even using the past tense throughout the passage in reference to the blessings that were yet to come. She had such confidence in the promise of God that the mere promise was enough to consider it to have already been fulfilled.
What stands out to me is the juxtaposition of the proclamation of favour and blessing, with the actual reality Mary would experience. We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story – the pain, grief and suffering that resulted from this blessing – but even in the moment, Mary herself was greatly troubled by the angel’s announcement and what it meant for her. She could see the difficult path God’s blessing put her on, that God’s favour would result in a sword piercing her own soul. When I compare the proclamation of favour and blessing with how that blessing worked itself out in Mary’s life, my presuppositions about what it means to be blessed by God are challenged.
And perhaps that is the first step in preparing for the coming of Jesus – letting go of our assumptions about what it means to be blessed by God. Affirm with confidence that God is with us, that God is for us, that God is working in the world and in our own lives. But be open to the possibility (certainty?) that God’s promise of blessing and favour may not match our expectations. Be ready to receive the favour and blessing that God wants to bestow on us, and resist the temptation to dictate to God what that blessing and favour must look like.
In all things, God works… This advent season, may God open our eyes to receive God’s favour and blessing in ways we did not expect.